The vibes are back. After just one preseason game, the Toronto Raptors have fans begging for more. Between Scottie Barnes’ pure jubilance and infectious, team-wide camaraderie, this team has all the makings of a potential fan-favourite season. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster, no strangers to pushing the envelope, have put together a tantalizing squad with copious amounts of length and athleticism. No matter the immediate results, the Raptors will be ridiculously fun to watch out of the gate.
That said, the team is quite young, with multiple unproven assets, and there are sure to be growing pains. As well, navigating through tough stretches of the season with unrelenting positive energy will undoubtedly prove difficult, so it will be intriguing to see how the team keeps its composure after losses.
Tonight, the Raptors face off against the Philadelphia 76ers for the second game in a row. Fans will likely get a better look at some of the other players on the roster who barely received any time on the floor during the team’s last contest. After all, the preseason is partly about discovering which players can make an NBA-level impact, and there are a few fringe guys (Sam Dekker, Isaac Bonga, Ishmail Wainright, Reggie Perry and Freddie Gillespie) who will surely be competing their hearts out for a roster spot, if given the opportunity.
Here are the details for tonight’s matchup:
Where to Watch:
TSN2, 7:00 p.m. EST
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa
Philadelphia — Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Toronto — Yuta Watanabe (calf strain — out); Chris Boucher (dislocated finger — out); Khem Birch (health and safety protocols — out); Pascal Siakam (shoulder surgery — out)
Philadelphia — Ben Simmons (not with team — out); Grant Riller (torn meniscus — out); Matisse Thybulle (shoulder — questionable)
Nick Nurse mentioned that, last game, he was specifically looking to give ball-handling opportunities to the big guys to see how they fare against NBA pressure. Next game, however, he insisted that the rotations will look a bit different. If that’s true, we’re likely in for more Malachi Flynn tonight, who sat the entire first half on Monday night.
I would love to see Malachi given ample opportunity to run the offense tonight. We know he’s a pick-and-roll maestro, but he’s yet to competently command the entire floor like the point guard fans hope he can eventually become. Similarly, if Fred VanVleet were to show some improved playmaking chops as well, all the better, though his opportunities will likely come in the regular season, seeing as he’s obviously cemented a starting spot already.
Do It Again!
As the roster gets solidified, a few semi-unexpected standouts could very well crack the regular season rotation depending on their continued level of play. Svi Mykhailiuk, Yuta Watanabe and Dalano Banton all impressed in their first game of the preseason, showcasing the skill sets that make them unique.
Last game, Svi consistently made smart decisions with the ball, reading the opposition well. His explosive (and surprisingly large) first stride grants him with just enough extra time to make a crafty pass or slither his way to the rim.
Dalano made several noteworthy plays, including a coast-to-coast drive ending with a beautiful finger roll that prompted Matt Devlin to exclaim, “George Gervin would be proud!”. Banton also showed off some serious passing ability, finding the open man with ease, and his length proved valuable on the defensive end as well.
After getting some NBA experience under his belt last year, Yuta looks much more comfortable. He’s such a smart player, and his confidence has clearly grown on both ends of the floor. With phenomenal positioning, it feels like Yuta is always there to knock down the three at any opportunity, cut to the rim with perfect timing, or come up with an unexpected block or steal.
Can’t Get Enough of Scottie
Let me make one thing clear – I love Scottie Barnes. His overwhelmingly joyous (and intense) energy is unmatched, and he brings a gigantic smile to my face every time I see him. If his personality were his biggest asset, I would still be thrilled to have him on the team. Of course, lucky for us, Scottie is much more than just an energy guy.
An immensely gifted passer, Scottie’s assists genuinely bring a tear to my eye. It’s so rare to see a positionless, athletic freak with such a natural affinity for playmaking. On multiple occasions last game, he threw completely unexpected passes to teammates that blew me away. Once he develops even more chemistry with his teammates, watch out.
Scottie’s relentless hustle, on both ends of the floor, is a highly sought-after asset as well. He’s always chasing after his own rebounds and other loose balls, using his length, quickness and strength to try to steal the ball whenever he can.
I could go on about Scottie’s positive traits forever, but as great as he’s been so far, there are a few aspects to his game that could use improvement. It goes without saying that his defensive intensity is extremely valuable, and his ability to clamp down on opponents is deservedly coveted. However, Scottie’s been blown by a few times thus far, getting caught off-guard by his assignment’s sudden unexpected lateral movement. Instead of immediately getting up in the face of smaller, quicker opponents, he may be better off ever-so-slightly sagging back and using his wingspan to guard the three, while simultaneously preventing drives to the rim.
I have no doubt Scottie will continue to improve throughout the year, but regardless, he’s such a pleasure to watch. This season will be fun, night-in and night-out, results be damned.